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A Heartwarming Saturday Tale April 22, 2017

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Every now and then, I’m in some public venue and become witness to some poor bastard’s domestic hell as it plays out in front of me and everyone else within earshot.

In the past, it’s been both wife and kids screaming and nagging dad that he’s buying the WRONG BRAND, DAMMIT!  at Target. Or perhaps the “Kill me, now!” face of some poor schmuck trying to control a genuine sue-that-condom-company brood of uncontrollable little bastards at a BBQ restaurant while his food got cold.

Today it was a mommy melt-down at a local deli.

A local deli? In Santa Clarita? The very heart of Goyville?

Yeah, there’s a local deli with two locations. Dink’s Deli. Their bagels have always been decent, their sandwiches okay, and since they came under new management some time back, their service and general demeanor have improved somewhat.

When I’m in the mood for some serious Jew-deli-ing, I’ll trek to Brent’s, but today I had to grocery shop as well.

And it’s Saturday.  I felt like some time out after going back to work this week, and after spending what seemed like too much time online at home (ahem) drumming up interest in my new book. (Reviews will be forthcoming on the Amazon page, but it’s taking FOREVER).

So I figured I’d have me a sammich while I did the crossword and took my time before hitting the supermarket. And as a bonus, they had the Blues/Wild game on with the sound off.

Then they entered, took the tables one down from mine. First mom, then the two kids. They took their places while dad ordered at the counter.

Then dad showed up at the table and the arguments started. Over nothing. Absolutely nothing. Over which kid would sit where, over which table to sit at, that sort of thing. It wasn’t the kids whining and bitching about it either, it was mom. Mom’s voice got louder, dad kept playing peacemaker inbetween guilting his kids over getting mom angry. One kid storms out. Other kid follows. Mom starts in on dad. Dad asks why this happens every weekend anytime they go someplace.  Mom snaps that the kids are mad at dad and that “everyone is looking at us!”

Naw, I’m just listening. Carry on.

Kids return.  Then mom storms out, says she’s going to the car. Dad doesn’t go after her.  The kids ask dad where mom is going. He says they’ll get her later. The kids follow outside, but return a moment later when the food arrives.

I kept thinking “Every weekend this guy deals with this? Jesus…”

It could not have been over where the kids were sitting, which was what it sounded like from the arguments going back and forth. Clearly, these people walked into the deli with the baggage of numerous previous arguments, or just plain bottled up anger/spite/whatever over something much bigger.

I couldn’t deduce any piece of a backstory from any possible clue. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to.

I’d like to think mom & dad were both having an affair with the same person. It’s the romantic in me.

Anyway, they finished eating and left. Mom never returned, so she either sat in a hot car in today’s near 100 degree heat, or she wandered somewhere else and maxed out the ol’ credit card.

I heard no gunshots.

So what does it all mean? Well, I’d like to thank them all for making me feel so good about not being married. That goes for the people in Target, at the BBQ place, and the countless other times I got to be juxtaposed with someone else’s tedious domestic squabbling.  It’s greatly outnumbered the times I witnessed someone’s marriage and/or family and fell into a deep depression because I felt like I was missing out on life by not having the same set up. It’s easy to outnumber zero.

I leisurely finished the crossword & my sandwich, and got in my car.

I had to go to the supermarket, but on a whim stopped at an estate sale to see if anything good was left. Nope. But it turned out that the estate was of someone who had owned race horses. Some memorabilia remained, but they told me the family had already claimed most of the good stuff, so I came up empty there. And all the books were lesser celebrity bios and chicklit. Meh. So I drove my car to the supermarket, bought whatever the hell I wanted without someone telling me otherwise, and came home to watch sports and pamper the cat.

I’ll cook up some wonderful pasta calamari later. Maybe I’ll read a little. Maybe I’ll work more on the beginning outline for Wagstaff book 3.

Sound boring? Beats hell out of what that dad deals with.

The New Wagstaff Book Is Here! Wagstaff & Meatballs available for order! April 3, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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The new Wagstaff mystery novel is now available on Amazon!!!

Order your paperback copy today! Both paperback & Kindle editions are ready to go.

This one was inspired by a Brown reunion I attended a few years back. I’ve attempted to encapsulate all aspects of the Rhode Island experience into an offbeat mystery story loaded with action and humor.

And by “all aspects of the Rhode Island experience” I mean breathtaking autumn foliage, amazing food ranging from clamcakes to Allie’s Donuts, entertainingly inept mobsters, eye-roll inducing classes at Brown, cops who bend the rules, and an action set-piece at Providence’s famed WaterFire.

Okay, that last one is only in the book.

I tried to get everything I missed about Rhode Island into the book somewhere. And since you’d want more than my mere memories to fill a good tale, there are plenty of clues, twists, shoot outs and stuff blow’d up real good  to keep you turning pages.

All told in the Professor Wagtaff/Groucho Marxist bedtime story voice! Who could ask for more?

Here’s the plot description from the back cover:

On his way back to Providence for a college reunion weekend, Wagstaff saves the life of an art professor who turns out to be the son of a longtime Rhode Island Mafia chief.  From there, our mix of Sherlock, Bond and Groucho concocts a trail through feuding mob factions, old college friends and rivals, a long lost Caravaggio masterpiece, and the ecstasies of Rhode Island cuisine. As bodies begin to pile up, Wagstaff realizes the stakes are higher than who will run the local bookmaking rackets, and the flirtations from the Don’s daughter might literally be playing with fire… which means, once again, it’s time for another edition of  “You Bet Your Life!”

Order Your Copy on Amazon Here!

Order your Kindle Edition here!

Want A Free Preview of the First 4 chapters? Click the link below!

Wagtaff And Meatballs Sample (PDF)

The New Wagstaff Book Is Imminent! March 6, 2017

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In the proofing stages now after finally settling on a cover concept I liked. Look for availability on Amazon and elsewhere in a few weeks!

Here’s an excerpt from the back cover blurb:

On his way back to Providence for a college reunion weekend, Wagstaff saves the life of an art professor who turns out to be the son of a longtime Rhode Island Mafia chief.  From there, our Professor concocts a trail though feuding mob factions, old college friends and rivals, a long lost Caravaggio masterpiece, and the ecstasies of Rhode Island cuisine. As the bodies begin to pile up, Wagstaff realizes the stakes are a lot higher than who will run the local bookmaking rackets, and the flirtations from the Don’s daughter might be literally playing with fire… which means, once again, its time to play “You Bet Your Life!”

Coming Soon!

Oscar Predictions 2017 February 22, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
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oscar-falls-alseepI don’t think there’s been a year where I’ve cared less about the Oscars, but then there’ll always be next year.

When Hollywood was HOLLYWOOD! we’d have a bunch of films we loved contending for an award during the one evening of the year where awards were given out. Legendary stars like Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy, John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Liz Taylor, Bette Davis and so forth would either win, be nominated or present in festivities hosted by Bob Hope.

What do we have now? An endless award season where overpaid entertainment-biz royalty continually stroke each other’s egos over largely forgettable fare, with a few diamonds in the rough. I’m always reminded of that when I cull through the screeners I’m lent by bona-fide academy members to see what I actually want to watch. It’s usually pretty thin.

Much the way NFL ratings dropped like a rock this year partly due to overexposure of mediocre product (like having last-place teams play week after week on Thursday night primetime games), the Oscars now blur into the year-long promotional fest of Hollywood telling us how great it is. It used to be a rarity to see our favorite actors & actresses as themselves, commenting on their work. Now, it’s everywhere, every day. Why, then, would Oscar night be a big deal? It’s just another day at the self-congratulatory office now.

Whatever.

Did I mention the show itself is most often a colossal bore? A funny joke here and there, usually depending on the host… but mostly it’s like watching factory gears turning. Every year at the end, I’d find myself saying “I don’t think I can sit through another one of these” and this year, I am keeping that promise.

I will not be watching.

I’ll check winners online, yeah, I’d like to see how well I call the winners, but I can’t sit through the broadcast. Through the boring production numbers. Through behind-the-scenes people who’d have great things to say being played off stage to make time for…. more production numbers. Through painfully unfunny contrived comedy bits like Neil Patrick Harris’ “psychic” act from a few years ago. Through this year’s memorial reel, filled with far too many wonderful people who died this year, and inevitably sitting there annoyed at who they left out. One year they left out DeForest Kelly. Another year, they skipped over Patrick McGoohan. Who will get dissed this year?

And then, this of all years, will be the politics. Movies are a nice escape from real life, or a window onto reality by way of creative fiction. If actors broke character and the 4th wall and speechified during their films, most people would walk out.

Hence, my reaction to the show. I’ll be watching the Columbo rerun, prolly. I have no idea what Peter Falk’s politics were, and I don’t care. They don’t matter.

Anyway, here are my predictions:

Best Picture: La La Land (they love movies about themselves)

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor: Even though Denzel Washington won the SAG award, I’ll go with Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea.

Best Actress: All signs point to Emma Stone for La La Land, but a dark horse upset would be an interesting barometer: voting on this took place just after Meryl Streep‘s highly publicized political speech after winning a Golden Globe for Florence Foster Jenkins, not exactly one of Streep’s “major” career roles, but if everyone who agreed with her speech voted for her on account of it, AND rationalized the vote since, after all, she’s Meryl-fucking-Streep-fer-godsakes…. well, don’t be too surprised if her name is announced.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Rhode Island’s Viola Davis, Fences

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Animated Short: Piper

Best Original Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Arrival

Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Lion

Best Documentary Feature: OJ, Made In America

Best Documentary Short: The White Helmets

Best Live Action Short: Enemies Within

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Best Editing: La La Land

Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge Swinging for the fences here… Kevin O’Connell finally winning after going 0 for 21!

Best Production Design: La La Land  

Best Score: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land this is getting monotonous….

Best Original Song: I’ll go for an upset here… “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

Best Makeup: It’s always the one with he MOST makeup, so… Star Trek Beyond

Best Costume Design: La La Land

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Well, there. My guiding principles in picking these was to pick movies that make Hollywood feel good about itself, either aesthetically (La La Land) or politically (the shorts, foreign film & documentary). We’ll see how I do.

 

Three NFL Playoff Bets January 21, 2017

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I never bet for or against a team I root for (meaning the Patriots in this case), but nevertheless I have three picks relating to this weekend’s conference championship games that I’m very confident with.

While the Patriots are 6 point favorites over the visiting Steelers, the Steelers were the LAST team I wanted to come to Foxboro for the title game since they’ll be the toughest foe the Pats could face. While the Patriots played great down the stretch, the only time they faced a quarterback at the top tier was Wilson & the Seahawks, and they lost. And while they beat the Texans by a sizable point margin last week, they played poorly in nearly every aspect of the game. And the Steelers are 7-0 when Rothelsberger, Brown and Bell all play. And I’m a worry-wart.

In any case, it’ll be a great matchup, and I don’t think Pittsburgh will be held to nothing but field goals by what can often be an erratic Patriot secondary. And Brady should be able to slice through the Pittsburgh secondary. So why is the over/under only 50 1/2??

So while not picking a winner, I would definitely take the OVER 50.5 in the Steelers/Patriots game.

Over in the NFC,  with the whoever-has-the-ball-last wins likelihood scenario of another high-scoring shootout between the high powered offenses & quarterbacks involved, the historically high 60.5 over/under figure seems low to me. Again, take the OVER 60.5 in the NFC game, and while once again I can’t be sure of a winner, I can be fairly confident in the game being decided by a narrow margin, so the 5 1/2 point spread seems excessive. Take the Packers plus the 5 1/2 since I think they’d beat that spread even if they lose.

Any one of these four teams could make sense as a Superbowl winner this year. I hope it’s my team, and even for you Pats haters and non-fans…. you KNOW you also hate Roger Goodell, and you KNOW how great it would be for him to have to totally eat shit and hand Kraft, Belichick & Brady that trophy.

I’d like to see it go down like this (except with the Pats winning, of course….)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of December 2,2016 December 2, 2016

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0085A special Friday edition, since I want to pick a Friday night game.

And that game is the PAC12 championship between Colorado & Washington, where the stakes for Washington are very high indeed – win, and they are most certainly in to the 4 team playoff. Lose, and they are sent on the one-way road to Palookabowl, whichever lesser bowl it turns out to be.

A great matchup, and certainly tops on my Friday night TV schedule while I make my szechuan chicken. It’s also a big spread – Washington is favored by 9, and as much as I think they’ll win, Colorado is a really good team with a lot of experienced players, and I think they’ll keep it close. So, I’ll go with Colorado plus 9 against Washington.

In a few of tomorrow’s big match-ups, I have mixed feelings, but here’s a shot:

In the big SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida, I fully expect Alabama to win, since they’re probably the best college team out there. Florida’s offense leaves a lot to be desired – does that justify a 21 point spread in favor of ‘Bama? Well, I think it does.  Not only because Alabama COULD score that much more than them, but I think that, even in a conference championship game, that assistant Lane Kiffin will want to run up the score to demonstrate his offensive props while he’s out interviewing for head coaching jobs next year, most notably at Houston. So, my “Lane Kiffin’s audition” factor outweighs other stuff, and I’ll take Alabama to cover 21 over Florida.

In the Big 10 championship, it’s an interesting set-up, where we have a red-hot Wisconsin team playing an equally hot Penn State team, even if fellow conference members Ohio State & Michigan are the ones either in or flirting with making the playoff. But, if Washington does lose, there’s a good chance that the winner of this game gets in there, especially if Clemson loses to Virginia Tech (which they won’t).  The spread is Wisconsin by 2. I think it’ll be close, and I think Wisconsin is the better team. I’d take Wisconsin to cover 2 over Penn State.

As mentioned above, I like Clemson by 11 in the ACC championship over Virginia Tech. VT has been weaker against the spread than Clemson, though not by much…. but Clemson has been playing better lately, and can taste the playoff. I think they can win by 2 touchdowns.

In another great matchup, Oklahoma is favored by 11 over Oklahoma State. I think these teams are far more evenly matched than that, and despite Oklahoma looking like a better team, I think this will be closer. So, I’ll go with Oklahoma State plus the 11 points.

In the pros, I like the Chiefs plus 5 1/2 against the Falcons, the Eagles plus 1 1/2 against the Bengals, the Raiders by 3 over the Bills, and the Redskins plus 1 1/2 against the Cardinals.

I went 4-3 last week overall, bringing the college totals to 25-16-1 & the pros to 17-12, for a grand total of 42-28-1. That winning percentage needs to go up, pronto!

And Gronk is out for the season. There is no joy in Patriotland for your humble prognosticator.

 

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 26, 2016 November 25, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Football, Horse Racing.
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mattel-footballboxIs anyone making money following my advice?  You could be, I guess.  Especially last week, where I was a mere half point away from running the table and going 8-0.  Perfection eluded me, but I improved my totals: 22-15-1 in college, 16-10 in the pros, for a grand total of 38-25-1.

I’m taking a bigger chance this week, picking favorites to cover only. I’d like to think the push for better bowl bids will drive a lot of the college picks, but who the hell knows? I’m going with teams I think will want to score big in the college games, and teams I think will simply win outright in the pros. It’s not an exact science.

The idea of “exact science” in sports handicapping always fascinates me, however. It’s what attracts me to the horse races as well. And in a BIG THRIFT STORE SCORE this week, it turned out that some fellow degenerate gambler donated a stock of horse handicapping books to Goodwill, just waiting for me to find them.

Well, three out of the four, anyway. I already had a copy of Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing

But I did not have On Track/Off Track by James Quinn, a collection of short pieces on various aspects of horse betting that, perfect for me, focuses mostly on Santa Anita racetrack. I also picked up a copy of Steven Davidowitz’ Betting Thoroughbreds, and a copy of Thoroughbred Handicapping, State of the Art by William Quirin.

Well, state of the art for the mid 1990s, when all these books were published, which makes them a little out of date in terms of what sorts of information is readily available nowadays as opposed to calculating stuff on your own (like pace figures and such), but the general advice & strategies are still sound.

Each book was only two bucks!

I love poring through outdated sports betting books from the days of scratch sheets and people programming their Bowmar calculators to figure point spreads. There’s something about digging through all the outdated technical and computer instructions to get at the fundamental algorithms in making the picks, and then applying them to the current technologies and data available.  This is what I did when reading the long out of print Sports Betting by Jim Jasper. You have to wade through all sorts of instructions about what numbers to punch into the pocket calculator to figure baseball and football odds, but once translated into modern available data, a lot of Jasper’s overriding ideas are good ones.

Whatever. It provided me some nice reading material during my week off.

Oh yeah, my picks….

In the college games, I’ll stick with Temple to cover 21 over East Carolina, Penn State by 11 over Michigan State, Colorado by 9 over Utah, and USC to cover 17 1/2 over Notre Dame.

In the NFL, I like the Chargers coming off a bye by 1 over the Texans, the surging Dolphins by 7 1/2 over the Forty Niners, and the strengthening Seahawks by 6 over the Buccaneers.

And now, back to goofing off….

 

 

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 19, 2016 November 18, 2016

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grfootThe new Wagstaff novel is at the proofreaders/immediate feedback sources. I’m aiming for sometime in January to have it available on Amazon. Watch this space for any updates on that.

In the meantime, this means I can devote whatever gray matter I have left (most likely my internal organs at this point) towards making these picks, right? I keep reverting back to matching a coin flip, however, going 3-3 overall last week to bring my college totals to 18-15-1 and the NFL to 13-9, totalling 31-24-1. 56%. Ugh. I gotta do better than that.

Perhaps my constant trolling of people on Facebook with snark will sharpen my mind. And if not, well, at least I’m getting my jollies.

I think I will take advantage of the Thanksgiving break to design some possible covers for the new book. I’m aiming for something a little flashier than last time, something a little more colorful. The black & white noir thing worked well last time, but it’s time to gussy things up a bit. I have a decent camera and compositing software…. I ought to be able to put something together that’s nice. I have a concept in mind that shouldn’t be too difficult to stage.

Which reminds me… I need to rent a truckload of kangaroos dressed as clowns in bondage gear. Like I said, my concept shouldn’t be too difficult to stage.

In the meantime, in the college games this week, I like Virginia Tech plus 2 against Notre Dame, Temple by 15 over Tulane, Penn State to cover a big 28 over Rutgers, and as much as I LOVE home underdogs in rivalry games, I’m going to go against that and pick USC to cover 13 over UCLA.

In the NFL, I’ll take the Jaguars plus 6 1/2 against the Lions in a game where my cat will have no idea who to root for, the Cowboys by 7 over the Ravens, the Redskins by 3 over the Packers, and since I think it will be a low-scoring affair, I’ll take the UNDER 39.5 in the Rams/Dolphins matchup.

Looking forward to some much-needed downtime this week. I wish you all the same!

 

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 12,2016 November 11, 2016

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f411fd693d84ae6cb3bec2db3f772c6eI’ve been so desperate to avoid politics on TV this week that I wound up watching ALL of the Cleveland Browns game last night.

ALL OF IT.

The Browns may be a fascinating study in repeated failure, considering how many years they’ve sucked, how many draft picks they’ve had & blown, how many quarterbacks they’ve gone through, etc etc. But they are not a fun team to watch.

Switching gears to a totally different sport for a moment – to avoid watching election returns the other night, I watched my first regular season Lakers game in a number of years… and now, without Kobe sucking up all the oxygen, those hungry young guys ARE a fun team to watch.

By the way, my choice to avoid watching those election return has NOTHING to do with my political leanings (I hate everyone). It has to do with my total disdain for political “journalists” and “pundits,” who blather and bloviate endlessly, and are ALWAYS WRONG AND STUPID. And if this election didn’t prove just how stupid and wrong they can be, I don’t know what would.

Speaking of wrong and stupid, I’ve made my football picks for the weekend. Last week I was even, bringing my totals to 17-13-1 for college and 11-8 in the pros for a total of 28-21-1 overall.

And in the Breeder’s Cup, I only got the Turf Sprint & The Classic. Sorry about that. I wound up down $25. I hope you did better.

Also speaking of wrong and stupid, I view most sports radio prognosticators with nearly the same respect I view political pundits.  I’m usually only interested in when I wind up agreeing with any of ’em (and this includes horse pickers) because I wonder if we use the same methods.

Anyway, this week in the college games, I like UCF by 11 1/2 over Cincy, Oregon plus 3 against Stanford, and Washington to cover 7 1/2 over USC.

In the NFL, I’ll go with the Texans plus 1 1/2 against the Jaguars, the Falcons to cover 1 1/2 over the Eagles, and in the second best matchup of the week, the Cowboys plus 2 1/2 against the Steelers.

The best matchup? Well, duh! The Patriots against the Seahawks, Sunday night. I never pick a Pats game since it’s bad luck, but I WILL predict that Carrie Underwood’s new Sunday Night Football theme song will continue to SUCK.

Preparing the last bits for a draft of the new Wagstaff novel to go to the proofreaders. Stay tuned for more news on that front!

 

Some Breeder’s Cup Picks (A Pick 6 Sequence) For November 5, 2016 November 4, 2016

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marxbroraceWell, I don’t mean to brag…. but I’m ahead FOUR DOLLARS after making two bets on two different Breeder’s Cup races today (Friday). With that amazing amount of confidence on hand, I went ahead and handicapped the Pick 6 sequence in Saturday’s line up, culminating with the big 6 million dollar Breeder’s Cup Classic.

And the Pick 6 will be worth taking a shot at. There’s a half million dollar two day carryover going into it, which pretty much translates to a Pick 6 pool of at least 2 million dollars. And with all those pick 6 players (like me) also playing the late pick 4, the pick 4 pool ought to be north of a million, at least.

In these picks, I’ve listed the horse I most think will most likely win first, and second the horse I think will win if Horse #1 messes up. In one race, I’ve picked 3 for reasons I’ll go into.

Race 7: Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint (2pm PDT): 2 Obviously, 13 Holy Lute

Race 8: BC Juvenile (2:43pm PDT): 6 Three Rules, 2 Syndergaard

Race 9 (also the start of the Pick 4): BC Turf (3:22pm PDT): 4 Flintshire, 10 Found

Race 10: BC Filly & Mare Sprint (4:01pm PDT): 2 Haveyougoneaway, 8 Carina Mia

Race 11: BC Mile (4:40pm PDT): 10 Limato, 2 Alice Springs & 13 Midnight Storm. Both Limato and Alice Springs are foreign horses with very identical profiles, so I’m throwing them both in. Out of the American horses (STAND UP AND SALUTE, MISTER!) my top pick would be Midnight Storm. I’ll use all 3 in my pick 4, mix ’em up for pick 6 combos.

Race 12: BC Classic (5:35pm PDT): 10 Arrogate, 4 California Chrome. Yeah, that’s right. Every handicapper I’ve looked at says to single California Chrome here, but I’m thinking Arrogate is a better bet. So there.

There’s no way I play a $196 monster pick 6 ticket for all of my picks. I’ll play different combos, not sure how I’ll mix them up yet. However, a $12 monster pick 4 ticket is certainly within the cheapskate Wagstaff betting bankroll budget.

The weather should be clear & beautiful. Races at this level, well… anything can happen, really. But it’s worth a shot. Here’s hoping I run the table….